Counterfeit spirituality can look a lot like true biblical conversion. A counterfeit Christian can show signs of the real thing in their life. They might present like someone who is on fire for Jesus, whose life is changing and turning around. They might praise the Lord, tell others about Him, pray to Him, and come to worship service. At times, they might even make their way into church leadership. But then something happens and you never see them again. I know we have all experienced it. We have all sat next to someone. We have all known someone who seemed like a true convert only to fall away.
When someone walk away, we are left wondering — what just happened? We might have been so sure Jesus had changed their life. We might have even been mentoring and discipling them. But the next thing we know, they aren’t walking with the Lord anymore.
When someone who seemed like a true believer falls away how do we make sense of it?
Why do those who seem to be a part of the family walk out on the family?
Jesus’ parable of the four soils helps us process why those who seem to be believers walk away.
Look at what Jesus says,
“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”” (Mt 13:1–9)
Instead of going with His family (Matt 12:49-50), Jesus leaves the house where He was ministering and goes to the sea. The crowd that followed Him was so large, he had to get in a boat to address them.
Jesus tells the crowd a story every farmer and resident of the area would understand. Farmers back then didn’t have the equipment like farmers do today. Most likely this man had a bag with seed in it. In order to plant his crop, he would have to walk around his field sowing it by hand. As the farmer walked around his field sowing the seed, he ended up sowing in 4 different types of soil — the path, the rocky soil, the thorny soil, and the good soil.
In the Parable, the seed represents the gospel. Jesus sows the gospel message. The gospel is referred to here as the “word of the kingdom.”
The good news is that a king has come who will setup another kingdom. A kingdom that is unlike any kingdom in this world. There is no death, disease, injustice, heartache. No sin at all. It is a perfect kingdom. But only those who are perfect can enter the kingdom. The problem is we aren’t perfect people. We are sinners who have rebelled against the King. We are barred from entering the kingdom.
But Jesus has come on our behalf to make a way for us to enter the kingdom. He does so by paying our debt. The wages of sin is death. He dies in our place. All those who believe in Him, His death is our death, and His righteousness is our righteousness. In that way we are able to enter His perfect kingdom.
A kingdom that had come in part when Jesus arrived. One that is breaking into the world now as we live out the kingdom’s ethics. One that will finally and fully come when Jesus returns in the future.
That is the good news, that is the seed Jesus is sowing. If you notice, Jesus sows the gospel message indiscriminately to the crowds who follow Him and listen to His teaching. Some reject His teaching. Some accept it. Others accept it for a while then walk away.
The parables teaches us that there are four responses to the gospel. The response has to do with the people’s heart. The heart represents the soil in which the seed, the gospel message is sown. The message is the same but the soil is different.
Let’s look again at the different types of soil with that in mind and discover why some who seem to be believers end up walking away from the faith.
(1) The Impenetrable Heart
“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.” (Mt 13:19)
Again, everyone hears the gospel — that Jesus’ kingdom has come, a kingdom that is drastically different than the kingdoms of this world. A kingdom we can only enter by believing that Jesus is the Messiah who paid the penalty for our sin in order to restore our relationship with the King.
The people who represent the path hear the gospel. Jesus tells us it is not a hearing issue, it is an understanding issue. They hear but they don’t understand.
The reason they don’t understand has nothing to do with a language barrier, or a cultural barrier. The people they hear what Jesus is saying. They hear Him, but they don’t understand His teaching regarding the kingdom. They don’t understand, they don’t grasp that the Messiah has come. That what they see in front of them and who they are hearing from is the Messiah for which they have been waiting. Since they don’t grasp who Jesus is they reject His message. Their heart is as hard as a path that has been trampled by 1000 footsteps. Their heart is impenetrable.
The heart, if you remember, represents our intellect, our emotions, our will. They refuse to allow the gospel message to penetrate their heart so that it affects how they think, feel, and act. They hear what Jesus says, but they flat out reject it. Their heart is hardened to the gospel message.
This represents both religious and secular society today. They have an idea of who the Messiah should be; what salvation looks like. Just think of any gospel today. One of the more popular ones is that we are to be mindful. That we are able to control our emotions and thoughts. That we are able to calm ourselves through meditation breaks throughout the day.
There certainly benefit to taking breaks from stressful situations, allowing ourselves to calm down. But often times the way this occurs is through self motivation and self talk. It is does not occur through believing and trusting in God to be your provider, or that you are accepted in Christ and you don’t need the acceptance of the world. Those who believe a secular gospel or any other gospel besides the biblical gospel, they hear the gospel but they reject it because it doesn’t look like their gospel and their heart is hardened to any form of correction.
Their heart is hardened because of what we learn in verses 10-17. These verses provide a lot of guidance when looking at Jesus’ explanation of the parable. There is a reason this teaching is sandwiched in between the parable told to the crowd and the explanation given to the disciples. We can’t gloss over its teaching. We have to let it inform our understanding of the parable.
In verse 10, Jesus’ disciples ask why He speaks in parables. The implied idea is that parables aren’t easy for everyone to understand. Wouldn’t a straight forward teaching be more beneficial?
Look at Jesus’ response in verse 11:
“And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”
There is that word “understand” again. The same word that appears down in verse 19 — “they hear but they don’t understand”
Jesus tells the disciples that they have been given the ability “to know” the secrets of the kingdom. But the ability “to know…the secrets of the kingdom of heaven…has not been given” to them. The Father has given it the disciples, but He hasn’t given it to those who don’t follow Jesus.
“To know”, which is ginosko in the Greek, it means to come to an understanding, to perceive, to comprehend. To know what? To know the “secrets of the kingdom”.
When we think of the word secret, we often think of it as something that is hidden that others are trying to find. Some people are able to discover another’s secret because they looked hard enough. Think about an investigative journalist, they are able to uncover the secret life of a high profile celebrity because they looked, they dug hard enough.
While that might be how we often think of that word. The way it is being used here is different.
The “secrets of the kingdom” do not represent that which others sought to uncover but were not able to uncover. They represent those things that were hidden, that were unmanifested. They are those things that remain hidden until God reveals them.God is the only one who knows them. God is the only One who is able to reveal them.
The “secrets of the kingdom” is that Jesus, very God and sole Son of the Father, has come to earth to bring the Kingdom in an upside down way — not through force, but through Sacrifice. To show that He is bringing the kingdom, He has been teaching and performing many mighty deeds that testify to Him as the Messiah.
But those whose hearts are represented by the impenetrable soil reject Jesus. That is because they haven’t been given the ability “to know” to understand the “secrets of the kingdom.”
Even though they see Jesus’ work, they hear Jesus’ message, they refuse to believe. As we see in verse 15,
“For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”
Because they don’t understand, they reject Jesus’ message of salvation. As a result they dull their hearts, they close their ears and eyes to Jesus’ message. Instead of turning to Jesus and experiencing healing, they turn from Him. Because the gospel message sits on the surface of their impenetrable heart, Satan, who is the deceiver, is able to come and continue his deceptive work in their life.
That’s the first soil. They are absolutely closed off to the gospel because God hasn’t softened their heart and they turn from Jesus hardening their hearts even more to the true gospel, which results in Satan continuing his deceptive work in their life.
(2) The Emotional Heart
Look what Jesus tells us about them — verses 20-21:
“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” (Mt 13:20–21)
Whereas the first soil was absolutely impenetrable, the gospel is able to work its way into the heart of the second soil, but only at an emotional level. These people hear the gospel, the good news about the kingdom, they get all excited. Somehow, someway the message has tugged at their emotions. In the moment, they have a feeling, an emotional response to the message. Maybe it was at Youth Camp, a Revival, or a particular message one Sunday touched them. Because of what they are feeling, they respond. They respond in a positive way.
But the problem is — there is not much depth. There is not really a desire to grow in their understanding of God’s Word, nor to be obedient to it. It is all about the emotions. It is all about the feeling. It is all about the experience to them. The positive vibes Christianity brings. These are those people who are always chasing that spiritual high.
As long as the feeling, the spiritual high is there, they are with Jesus. But nothing kills a spiritual high like tribulation and suffering that is related to belief in Jesus. When persecution comes, the spiritual high, the emotional feeling one gets about Jesus, disappears. Because the mind and the will were not engaged, they end up falling away from the faith. It is no longer worth it, beneficial for them to follow Jesus. Their safety, their status in the community is more important than being a part of Jesus’ family and entering His kingdom. They choose the temporal over the eternal.
This is why it is important we aren’t just after emotionalism, but that we truly dive into God’s Word. That we purposefully seek to develop an understanding of who God is, who we are, what we can expect from the world. Feelings fade fast when you are being attacked. That attack doesn’t have to be much. It could simple be the way people look at you when you talk about finding Jesus. Or maybe your friends not wanting to hang out with you anymore because you claim to be a Christian. These attacks don’t have to be physical. Your life doesn’t have to be threatened in order for the spiritual high to fade and for you to walk away from Christ.
That’s the second soil. It is all about the Spiritual high, the feelings. When the feelings fade because of persecution and suffering, they walk away.
(3) The Idolatrous Heart
Look at what Jesus reveals about this soil in verse 22:
“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Mt 13:22)
This group doesn’t outright reject the gospel. They aren’t all about the feelings, getting caught up in the emotions of it all. That’s not to say that the gospel, that worship doesn’t affect their emotions. It certainly does. But there is some depth to this group. They know God’s Word. They seem genuine.
But we are told that it is “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches [that] choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” In other words, their idols are more important than Jesus.
As we have talked about in the past, an idol is anything you allow to get between you and Jesus. It can be anything other than Jesus that you believe will provide you with satisfaction, joy, purpose in life, and salvation.
It might be your work — Now, we certainly need to take care of our families. I’m not advocating for you not working. But work might be your idol if it consistently takes you away from regularly gathering with other believers. Or maybe it doesn’t take you away from your regular gathering, but you are not willing to take a stand on anything. You are willing to fudge a bit here and there. Operate in the gray or outright break the law in order to get ahead.
Maybe your recreation is an idol — You find yourself on the golf course, the lake or the hunting stand more than in the pew or gathered with others. Or maybe it doesn’t take you away from church, but you know more about the local or national sports team than you do God’s Word.
Maybe money, status, or position is your idol — You are willing to do whatever it takes to gain and keep them even if it means acting contrary to God’s Word.
Those whose hearts are thorny will choose their idol when there is a conflict between the idol and Jesus. They will obey their idol over obedience to Jesus. Whatever it takes to gain and keep that idol, they will do. They will submit to its will over Jesus’.
The result is that these people are unfruitful. They don’t really ever change, they are stagnant. There is no fruit to speak of because all their attention, all their affections, all their time and energy are given to serve the idol instead of Jesus.
If you have been coming to church your entire life, and there is no fruit in your life. There is no peace, patience, joy, kindness, goodness, self-control, gentleness, faithfulness, and love. If these fruits aren’t evident in your life, if you haven’t grown and are not continually growing in these areas, if you know no more about God’s Word than what you learned in Sunday school as a kid, if you haven’t changed, your life might be characterized by the Thorny Soil.
Eventually when a choice has to be made between Jesus and your idol, you we will walk away from Jesus because you care more about the things of the world than you do spiritual things.
That’s the third soil — the idolatrous heart. Obedience to their idol is prioritized over obedience to Jesus.
(4) The Fertile Heart
We finally get to the one that is the true believer. Look at what Jesus says in verse 23,
“As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”” (Mt 13:23)
This person doesn’t reject the gospel, instead they believe the gospel. They understand its purpose and implication for their life. If you notice this is the only one Jesus says understands the Word. They are the only ones who allow Jesus’ message to penetrate their heart, to affect their mind, their emotions, and their will.
They are not just in it for intellectual knowledge, to prove they are smarter than someone else. They aren’t the continual debater. Nor are they always after a certain feeling, an emotional, a spiritual high. They don’t obey the wishes of an idol. Living according to an idols will instead of the Father’s.
Instead they are wholly engaged — mind, emotions, and will. They are always seeking to learn and understand God’s Word. Their hearts are warmed by worship, their affections are drawn to Jesus. They seek to obey Him with their whole life. They don’t hold any areas back, nor do they put anything above Jesus. They are wholly engaged with their whole self. Mind, emotions, and will. Each are kept in check by God’s Word.
This is the person who is the true believer, the one who ends up being fruitful instead of fruitless. This is the one who will go the distance, who won’t quit at the first sign of persecution. Who won’t allow an idol to draw them away. They will continue to follow Jesus, understanding that the gospel is the only message that saves.
These are the ones who recognize Jesus as Messiah because God has changed their heart, He has made it fertile to the gospel message. He has given them the ability to comprehend the “secrets of the kingdom”. As a result, they turn to Jesus for salvation and they experience healing.
Without God’s work, they would be like the soil on the path, the rocks and the thorns. They wouldn’t give the gospel a second thought, they would allow persecution to drive them away, or they would seek after idols over Jesus. That is how man naturally responds to Jesus. But not those whose hearts are fertile. They respond rightly.
Recognize Blessing from the Lord
As well as those whose hearts are fertile, recognize how blessed they are. Look at the text beginning in verse 16,
“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Mt 13:16–17)
If our hearts are fertile, we will recognize the blessing God has poured out on our life, how fortunate we are, how privileged we are to sit at this moment in history. The prophets and righteous men from long ago, longed – they so desired the blessing and privilege we have.
Not only that but if our hearts are really fertile, we will praise God for the salvation He has provided. We will rejoice at our understanding of the gospel of the kingdom! We will long to know and see and understand more. We will allow what we learn to affect us. We will repent of our sins and turn to God on a regular basis. In other words, we will live as true family members of Jesus.
Is your heart fertile? Do you understand the gospel? Has it affected your mind, emotions, and will?
Do you recognize the blessing God has poured out in your life by allowing you to understand the gospel? Do you praise God for your salvation on a regular basis? Is your heart fertile?
The parable of the sower reveals why some walk away. Their hearts are hardened. They are just in it for the spiritual high. They worship and obey their idols over Jesus.
When someone walks away from the faith, don’t loose heart. Don’t loose faith in Christ. Instead, pray for their salvation. Pray the Lord would soften their heart to the gospel. Not only should we pray but preach the gospel to them. We should spread the seed indiscriminately to all. While at the same time praying their hard, unfruitful, idolatrous heart would become fertile soil in which the gospel would take root and be productive.
Yes, people walk away from the faith. But don’t allow their actions to cause you to walk away. Instead, recognize who blessed you are, praise God, pray for them, and spread the gospel to all who will give you a hearing.